Are you a big fan of using wood in your aquaecapes?
Apart from some specialized situations (like African Rift Lake cichlid tanks), it seems like almost EVERY freshwater hobbyists incorporates wood of some sort into his/her aquascape at some point!
One of our favorite woods (and among the most sought after by fellow hobbyists) used in 'scaping is Mopani. Also called "Mopane", it comes from a species of tree, Colophspermum mopane, found in hot, dry parts of Africa- specifically, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, Angola and Malawi. In fact, the tree only occurs in Africa, which gives you some idea as to its relative scarcity in the aquarium trade.
The Mopane tree only grows in hot, arid climates and surprisingly alkaline soils, further restricting its range. An economically important tree to its native nations, it offers many characteristics that make it unique for a range of uses.
It's a surprisingly heavy wood, and is termite resistant (really important in Africa!), and has been used by man to build everything from houses to flooring. From an aquarist's standpoint, we love this wood, not for it's intricate shapes, but for its rich, gnarled texture, and distinct "two-tone" color, not to mention its durability...the stuff can last for years and years in an aquarium!
It's a very dense wood, and sinks really easily. Preparation required is pretty simple: A good rinse and maybe a light scrub with a soft bristle brush, to remove debris and such, followed by immersion in fresh water. Like any wood, Mopani will impart some tannins into the water after it's submerged, so if you're not into "the tint", you probably want to soak it in freshwater for a week or two to "crack off" some of the initial burst of tannins and other organics contained in the wood structure. You could also boil smaller pieces, followed by a soak in fresh water for a few days, but I'm more of a "soak and wait" kind of guy with this wood, myself. Regardless, it's still gonna leach tannins for a long time...just part of the game with any wood.
Mopani is really about aesthetics. Occasionally, I'll get an inquiry from a catfish enthusiast, asking me if this is one of the woods these fish will gnaw on. The answer, according to my many Pleco friends is that, yeah, in the absence of other, softer woods, they may pick at it; however, for all practical purposes, your Panaque L204, Ancistrus, or other cat would prefer something softer as a chew toy!
One of the biggest concerns a lot of aquarists have about Mopani is the price. Yup, this stuff is kind of expensive relative to other woods used in the aquarium. Why is this? Well, first off, it has that restricted range- Africa. Ever import something from an African nation? It's expensive, fraught with economic risk, and subject to a lot of paperwork hassles to legally obtain goods from this region. Plus, it's kind of heavy, as we've stated before, which adds to the transportation and shipping costs. You're generally not going to see huge pieces of Mopani wood offered for sale in the aquarium trade. Typically, it's more common to see pieces from 5"-25" in length. We tend to offer pieces ranging from 5"-12" or so in size.
Because it's a commercially important wood in its native region, and is increasingly being used in things like flooring and furniture, there is concern about the sustainability of Mopani harvest on this species. There are several African nations that have commissioned sustainability studies regarding harvest of Mopani and other woods, and these are ongoing.
As we are always concerned about the ecological impact and sustainability in regards to the sourcing of our botanicals, we'll be monitoring these studies and will make sure that we continue to obtain our wood from sources and suppliers operating in nations that support the sustainable and ethical harvest of this wood, and we'll discontinue offering it should the ecological impact be threatened by its continued harvest. While the impact of the aquarium trade on the wood may be statistically undetectible- it still counts, and every little conservation effort helps. We want to do our part to help preserve this resource for generations to come, and if that means discontinuing offering this product, rest assured, we will.
In the mean time, we can all continue to enjoy this unique wood, and the aesthetics it brings to our aquariums. We're excited to offer some beautiful pieces, each one with a character and texture all its own!
There are many creative possibilities with this wood, and we hope that you and your aquatic animals enjoy it as much as we do! We'd love to see what cool 'scares you've developed featuring this unique wood!
Stay creative. Stay excited..
And stay wet.